The Use of the Word Ekklesia in the Greek Old Testament
by Kyle Pope

The Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (abbreviated Lxx) was widely read among Greek speaking Jews in the years leading up to Christ, and by Christians for generations after the first century. Inspiredwriters reflect this fact in their frequent quotations from the Lxx in the New Testament.1 The Holy Spirit utilized this familiarity in the word choices and the use of words which New Testament writers employed to reveal the gospel in the pages of Scripture. As a result, much can be learned about the meaning of words and phrases in the New Testament, by considering the background of their use as illustrated in the Lxx.

The Law of Moses

     The word ekklesia, translated “church” in the New Testament, was used frequenty in the Lxx. In this study we will survey all the uses of ekklesia in the Lxx.2 The first instances come in the Law of Moses. The assembly at Horeb, when the Lord spoke directly to the Israelites was called “on the day of the ekklesia” (Deuteronomy 4:10). On this occasion God commanded Moses to “gather [the verb form of ekklesia] the people before Me” (Deuteronomy 4:10). It was on this occasion that God made His covenant with Israel (Deuteromony 5:2) The Law will reference this important day by simply saying “on the day of the ekklesia” (Deuteronomy 9:10; 18:16). The sacred assembly of Israel for worship and official business was the “ekklesia of the LORD.” The Law of Moses outlined very strict regulations about who could and could not “enter the ekklesia of the LORD.” One who was emasculated could not (Deuteronomy 23:1). One of illegitimate birth, and their offspring for ten generations could not (Deuteronomy 23:2). Ammonites, Moabites and their descendents for ten generations could not (Deuteronomy 23:3) and Edomites and their descendents for two generations could not (Deuteronomy 23:8). At the close of the book of Deuteronomy, the song of Moses was recited “in the hearing of all of the ekklesia of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:30).

The Period of the Judges

     After entering Canaan, this concept of the ekklesia as a covenantal body is continued. When Joshua, as Moses had commanded assembles the people on Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, he reads the blessings, curses and commands of Moses also “in the hearing of all of the ekklesia of Israel” (Joshua 8:35 [Lxx 9:2f]).3 In the days of the Judges, when the concubine of the Levite was killed, all the leaders of the tribes came together and take their place “in the ekklesia of the people of God” (Judges 20:2). Those who failed to come up to the ekklesia were to be put to death (Judges 21:5).

The Kingdom Period

     In the period of the kings, as David speaks to Goliath, he declares that all “all this ekklesia shall know” on that day, that “the battle is the Lord’s” (I Samuel 17:47 [Lxx I Kings 17:47]). In this instance the word seems to be more general in nature, including the company of Philistines together with the Israelites. The word can also refer to a small religious assembly. When Saul’s men are sent to capture David, they come to “the ekklesia of the prophets,” over whom Samuel is acting as leader, and they themselves prophesied (I Samuel 19:20 [Lxx I Kings 19:20]). Before David brings the ark from Kirjath Jearim he speaks “to all the ekklesia of Israel,” who agrees to assist him (I Chronicles 13:2,4). When David announces to Israel that Solomon will build the temple, he stands up “in the midst of the ekklesia” (I Chronicles 28:2). On this occasion he charges them to be faithful “in the sight of all the ekklesia of the Lord and in the hearing of our God” (I Chronicles 28:8)4 Throughout David’s instructions to the people about Solomon they are referred to as the ekklesia (I Chronicles 29:1,10,20).
     Solomon took the “all the ekklesia” to Gibeon where the ark was (II Chronicles 1:3). There the ekklesia inquired of the Lord (II Chronicles 1:5). When the temple was completed, Solomon blessed the ekklesia (I Kings 8:14, 22, 55 [Lxx III Kings 8:14, 22]; II Chronicles 6:3) then stands before the altar and prays “before all the ekklesia of Israel” (II Chronicles 6:12,13). On this occasion the ekklesia feasted for seven days (I Kings 8:65 [Lxx III Kings 65]; II Chronicles 7:8). After Solomon, “all the ekklesia of Israel” came before Rehoboam to appeal for relief from their burdens (II Chronicles 10:3).
     During the time of Jehoshaphat, he stands “in the ekklesia of Judah” in prayer to God (II Chronicles 20:5). After he prays, a prophet stands up “in the ekklesia” and urges them to follow Jehoshaphat (II Chronicles 20:14). When Joash is crowned, “all the ekklesia of Judah” made a covenant with him in the house of God (II Chronicles 23:3). When Hezekiah restored sound worship in Judah, the ekklesia laid their hands on the male goats of the sin offering (II Chronicles 29:23). As the offerings were made the ekklesia “worshipped” with singers and trumpeteers (II Chronicles 29:28). Having consecrated themselves, the ekklesia brought their sacrifices totaling 70 bulls, 100 rams and 200 lambs for burnt offerings (II Chronicles 29:31,32). Under Hezekiah “all the ekklesia in Jerusalem” kept the Passover, as it had not been held since David and Solomon (II Chronicles 30:2,4,13,17,23, 24,25).
     The prophets indicate a number of things about the ekklesia. It was “in the ekklesia of Lord” that land was divided by lot (Micah 2:5). When Israel is urged to repent, Joel urges them to “consecrate ekklesia (Joel 2:16). Clearly the ekklesia held a sacred import. Ekklesia is used synonymously with the word therapeian which is literally a “service” (Joel 2:15). When Babylon conquers Jerusalem and destroys the temple, Jeremiah declares that those whom God had commanded “not to enter” had come “into your [i.e. God’s] ekklesia” (Lamenations 1:10). This may reflect an association of the place of ekklesia with the ekklesia itself.

Books of Poetry

     In the books of poetry, Job in the midst of his sorrow says “I have stood in the ekklesia crying” (Job 30:28). In the Psalms, praise occurs “in the midst of the ekklesia,” (Psalm 22:22 [Lxx 21:23]) and “in the great ekklesia” (Psalm 22:25 [Lxx 21:26]). The Psalmist avoids the “ekklesia of evildoers” (Psalm 26:5 [Lxx 25:5]). The Psalmist will give thanks “in the great ekklesia” (Psalm 35:18 [Lxx 34:18]. The Psalmist declares his willingness to proclaim God’s lovingkindness and truth to the “great ekklesia” (Psalm 40:10 [Lxx 39:10]). When ekklesia is used in the plural it may refer to smaller assemblies of each tribe. The Psalmist calls upon the reader to bless God in the “in the ekklisias (Psalm 68:26-27 [Lxx 67:27-28]). Or, it may refer to the repeating assemblies of the “great ekklesia.” Psalmist promises to bless the Lord “in the ekklisias [Psalm 26:12 Lxx 25:12]). The heavens praise God’s wonders and faithfulness “in the ekklesia of the saints” (Psalm 89:5 [Lxx 88:6]). The Psalmist admonishes man to exalt God “in the ekklesia of people” (Psalm 106:32). The Psalmist charges Israel to worship God in the “in the ekklesia of the saints” (Psalm 149:1). In the book of Proverbs, when the wise man warns against adultery in the book of Proverbs, he forsees a time when regret will overwhelm the sinner, as they realize they have come to “ruin in the midst of the ekklesia and synagoge 5” (Proverbs 5:14).


     When the exiles return, as Ezra prays a “a very large ekklesia of men, women and children from Israel gathered to him” (Ezra 10:1 [Lxx II Esdras 10:1]). When they realize that many had taken pagan wives a proclamation to gather in Jerusalem is issued. Whoever refused to assemble “would be separated from the ekklesia of the settlement” (Ezra 10:8 [Lxx II Esdras 10:8]). As the people gather together, Ezra declared to the people that they must put away their pagan wives and “all the ekklesia” agrees to do as Ezra has said (Ezra 10:12 [Lxx II Esdras 10:12]). Nehemiah, in accordance with the Mosaic law, recognizes that “Moabites and Ammonites were not to enter the “ekklesia of God” (Nehemiah 13:1 [Lxx II Esdras 23:1]). On the return from exile, Ezra reads the book of the Law “before the ekklesia” and the entire kept the feast of tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:2, 17 [Lxx II Esdras18:2,17]). The entire ekklesia after the return from exile was 42,360 (Ezra 2:64 [Lxx II Esdras 2:64]; Nehemiah 7:66 [Lxx II Esdras17:66]). When Nehemiah realizes that the Israelites were charging usery from their brethren he calls a “great ekklesia” to rebuke them, and the “all the ekklesia said ‘Amen’” to his appeal (Nehemiah 5:7,13 [Lxx II Esdras15:7,13]).

Ekklesia Word Family

     Two other words in the ekklesia family are found in the Septuagint that are not in the New Testament: ekklesiazo the verb form “to call an ekklesia” and ekklesiastes the noun of agency “one who speaks to the ekklesia.” The most common name of the book of Ecclesiastes is drawn from the Septuagint’s title, and the reference throughout the book to the “preacher” (Ecclesiastes 1:2,12; 7:28; 12:8,9, 10). The verb form occurs when the people are called before the tabernacle for the consecration of Aaron and his sons: “and all the synagoge was called to an ekklesia at the door of the tabernacle of testimony” (Leviticus 8:3). The verb is used when God tells Moses “call the synagoge to an ekklesia” (Numbers 20:8). It is on this occasion that Moses presumptuously stikes the rock bringing forth water at Kadesh, yet is himself condemned not to enter Canaan, because, as the Lord tells him “you did not believe me to honor me before the children of Israel” (Numbers 20:12). The verb is used when the Lord commanded the gathering at Horeb, on the occasion when He spoke from the cloud and fire to the Israelites, He commands Moses “call to ekklesia the people before Me” (Deuteronomy 4:10). This occasion, as noted above, was then known of simply as “on the day of the ekklesia” (Deuteronomy 4:10). In connection with the command that the people were to gather every seven years for the reading of the Law, the verb was used. God commands “call to ekklesia the people: the men and women and their offspring and the proselyte6 in your cities” (Deuteronomy 31:12). When Moses called an assembly of the leaders of the tribes in order to read the Law to them, he uses the verb saying “call to ekklesia before me the leaders of the tribes and the elders and the judges and the court-scribes” (Deuteronomy 31:28). Moses calls heaven as his witness that he had taught them God’s word. The verb is used, when “David called out to ekklesia all Israel” upon the return of the ark (I Chronicles 13:5). Finally, the verb is used when a fast is called to pray for deliverance from the edict to kill the Jews. Esther sends a message to Mordecai, saying “call to ekklesia the Jews in Susa and fast for me” (Esther 4:16).


     It is evident from the use of ekklesia in the Lxx that the word held a deep significance for Greek-speaking Jews. Although an ekklesia could be merely a crowd of people (I Samuel 17:47 [Lxx I Kings 17:47]) or an assembly of “evil-doers” (Psalm 26:5 [Lxx 25:5]), the “ekklesia of the LORD” was the covenantal assmbly of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:10). This body, when assembled, worshipped God (II Chronicles 29:28,31,32), appealed to God (II Chronicles 20:5), repented to God (Joel 2:16), and made choices for the nation as whole (I Chronicles 13:2,4; Ezra 10:12 [Lxx II Esdras 10:12]). To stand “in the midst of the ekklesia” was a significant responsibility (I Chronicles 28:2; II Chronicles 20:5). To face shame before the ekklesia was to be avoided (Proverbs 5:14). Not all who dwelt among the Israelites could enter the ekklesia (Deuteronomy 23:1-3, 8). To fail to come together in the ekklesia was a serious breech of duty (Judges 21:5; Ezra 10:8 [Lxx II Esdras 10:8]). Although the ekklesia could include men, women and children (Ezra 10:1 [Lxx II Esdras 10:1]), there is no example of a woman addressing what the Lxx calls the ekklesia.

1 In some instances Old Testament quotations are closer to the Lxx than to the Hebrew text. For a thorough analysis of all texts see Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey by Gleason L. Archer & G.C. Chirichigno (Moody Press: Chicago, 1983).

2 There are some examples of the use of ekklesiawhich are in some textual variants which are not cited in this study.

3 In some instances the chapter, verse and book divisions in the Septuagint differ from the that which is found in the Hebrew Bible, which most English translations follow. When these divisions differ the Septuagint (abbreviated Lxx) divisions are in brackets [ ].

4 The Hebrew text calls as witness “all of Israel” and “the congregation of the LORD,” which may illustrate the fact that that not all who dwelt in Israel were considered part of the ekklesia of the LORD.

5 Synagoge was used synonymously with ekklesiain the Lxx to refer to religious assemblies of the Jews. By the first century a synagoge referred to an assembly and the place of the assembly. In the New Testament, while a congregation of Christians was most often called an ekklesia, it could also be called a synagoge (James 2:2). While in the New Testament ekklesiaalways refers to the assembly itself, after the New Testament ekklesia, like synagoge referred to the assembly and the place of assembly. After the New Testament as well, a synagoge was exclusively a Jewish assembly, while an ekklesia was exclusively a Christian assembly.

6Prosyluton means literally, “one who has arrived at a place, a sojourner,” but in latter usage referred to “one who has come over to Judaism, a convert, a proselyte” (Liddell & Scott).